Autism: Always Early

21 Jan

Other people do not seem to understand my compulsion, but that doesn’t mean that I am able to change it. That he is okay showing up just a few minutes before an appointment does not mean that I will be. I always have to be early, and though I have tried to explain it, it still isn’t understood.

To arrive at work, or at an appointment 5 minutes before means I will not have time to adjust to my environment. Reasonable or not, it also means I will feel (and say) that I am late. I hate being late. It conjures up all sorts of images. The strongest being of when I was in Sea Cadets. If we were late, we had to go in front of everyone to ask permission to “fall in.” Some people might be okay going up in front of other people, but I am not one of them. I still get that level of anxiety anytime there is any chance of my being late.

So I plan to get places early enough that there is no fear of being late. I also plan to arrive early enough that I have time to settle into my environment. To calm down (as much as possible), to pray, to breathe – before I ever have an obligation to speak to people.

And when I am going somewhere with someone else, and that person does not understand my compulsive need to be early, I often arrive in a panic. “We will make it,” he assures me, but the anxiety will not go away. His assurances that we will arrive in plenty of time for him to be comfortable does nothing to ease my own distress.

They talk about executive function problems for people who are unable to show up on time, and are compulsively late – but because it rarely causes issues for other people, they leave out those of us who are compulsively early. Some see it as a joke – “just because you are early, doesn’t mean you will get in early.” Some see it as a bonus – “I am so glad you are early for work, I could really use your help.” Neither understand.

For me, I am so afraid of being late that I show up for almost everything 15-30 minutes early. If I am asked to work or help out in that time – which is there to help me calm down – I will spend the rest of the shift… the rest of the appointment… the rest of the day, in a severe panic.

He asked, and I worried. I never do things before my appointments, as my anxiety is too high – but he was being supportive in coming with me to the appointment; in trying to understand my struggles; in doing the driving for me. So I agreed, though I likely shouldn’t have.

And as we drove up to the building at 5 minutes to 2, my heart was racing, my hands were numb, and I was nearly in tears.

Too late, I thought, and entered the appointment with my functioning ability severely impaired. And they saw me… the doctors… and seemed to decide that they were unable to help me at all.

“Is she often like this?” they asked him. “No,” he replied, “it is just because we are here.” And none of them understood the struggle.

1 Comment

Posted by on January 21, 2016 in Autism: Out in Public


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One response to “Autism: Always Early

  1. kazst

    January 21, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    I can relate to this to a certain extent. While I wouldn’t say it causes severe panic or anxiety with me, it is nonetheless very important to me to get places early. Like you, I need to adjust to my environment. I need for there to be time between the stress and/or sensory stimulation of traveling there, and having to concentrate or interact once the event/appointment/service starts. And if it’s a place like church where I have to find a seat, it’s very important to me to be early so that I can choose my own seat. When we tried taking the bus to church, and had no choice but to arrive when the bus arrived (it only runs once an hour on Sundays), the place was already packed and an usher had to find seats for us, and then we had to squeeze by a bunch of other people in the row to get to the seats. That left me so rattled and discombobulated that the whole service was just an unpleasant blur to me.

    Liked by 1 person


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